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Network Rail 'spends millions on payouts for race and sex claims'

Daily Telegraph: 20 Apr 2009
By Jon Swaine

Network Rail spent millions of pounds of taxpayers' money in compensation payouts to staff amid allegations of race and sex discrimination, it has been claimed.
Network Rail CEO Iain Coucher ordered an internal investigation Photo: PA

Almost 100 staff are said to have received pay-offs from the organisation, with many signing confidentiality clauses prevent them from speaking publicly about why they left the company.

Dozens of employees have received six-figure payouts while three senior employees were paid between £450,000 and £850,000, a Sunday newspaper has claimed.

Many of the claims allegedly centred on the behaviour of one senior executive at the publicly funded company, which controls Britain's rail network.

Among them were, reportedly, that he referred to a black female employee as a "silly ------- black -----" and kissed a woman employee while she was on the phone to her boyfriend.

One former human resources manager, was reported to have received an increased payout of about £500,000 when she agreed to drop proceedings at an employment tribunal.

An internal investigation ordered by Iain Coucher , the company's chief executive, reportedly upheld claims that the executive made politically incorrect remarks and behaved inappropriately.

But it said no further action was necessary.

The matter was raised in the House of Commons by Jim Devine, a Labour MP, who said: "My information is Mr Peter Bennett, Network Rail's head of human resources, is presiding over a culture of fear and bullying.

"Long-serving staff are being forced out but only after signing confidentiality clauses that prevent the culture of fear being exposed in the public domain."

A spokesman said: "Network Rail uses compromise agreements in a variety of circumstances where we need to protect the company against potential claims as a result of resolving difficult employment situations.

"This is entirely common practice in today's employee relations enviroment where the extension of individual employee rights has led to much greater levels of litigation."

The spokesman said that the company's lawyers were examining the allegations "with a fine tooth comb" but refused to specify what claims were thought to be inaccurate or defamatory.

See also:

Former Network Rail HR boss settles sex and racial discrimination claim after £500,000 payout

Personnel Today: 20 April 2009
Tara Craig

A former HR boss at Network Rail has received £500,000 in an out-of-court settlement after she accused a senior executive of sex and racial discrimination.

Vicky Lydford, the rail giant's former head of HR (national functions), received the offer on the day she was due to meet her former employer in court, according to the Mail on Sunday.

Lydford said the executive had been accused of a string of offences, including referring to women in his department as "blonde honeys", calling a black, female employee "a silly f***ing black bitch" and dismissing a female employee who he knew to be undergoing IVF treatment.

Lydford claims to have been the victim of sex discrimination on the part of the executive when she challenged his behaviour. She said "his disdain for employment law generally" was well known.

Spiralling claims

As many as 100 Network Rail staff are said to have received pay-offs after signing confidentiality clauses that stop them from speaking publically about their reasons for leaving.

Three senior employees are thought to have been paid between £450,000 and £850,000.

Many of the claims allegedly centred on the behaviour of the same senior executive at the publicly funded company.

Labour MP Jim Devine said in a Commons debate: "If the company uses public money to ensure the allegations never see the light of day, that is surely a matter for the Commons and the Minister [of Transport]." He also referred to Network Rail's "culture of fear and bullying".

An internal investigation upheld claims that the executive behaved inappropriately and made 'politically incorrect' comments. Network Rail said that no action was necessary as the executive had not acted "maliciously", and because he had a good overall record.